Blog: You look worried Ron
15th Aug 2010
It wasn't often that Ron Atkinson was uncomfortable with a situation during his time in football management.
Even when he was branded Judas by Sheffield Wednesday fans after leaving Hillsborough to become Villa boss, he seemed unfazed by the vitriolic reaction. Initially, at least.
The Wednesday supporters' anger was perfectly understandable. The previous season, Ron had led their team to a League Cup final triumph over his former club Manchester United, and there was a feeling around south Yorkshire that the Owls were on the brink of even greater glories under their inspirational boss.
But having initially rejected Villa's advances, insisting he had no intention of leaving Hillsborough, Ron was tempted by an improved offer - reportedly £1m a year.
That was what prompted the hate campaign, but while Atkinson was initially at ease with the verbal abuse it soon became apparent the bad feeling wasn't going to subside.
It stepped up a gear, in fact, when the fixtures were issued for the 1991-92 campaign.
I became aware of the fact that Villa were away to Sheffield Wednesday a few days before the fixtures were released, having read the information upside down on Steve Stride's desk while chatting with the Villa secretary in his office. But there was no way I could break the embargo.
It would have been a brilliant "scoop" for the Evening Mail but wouldn't have done my long-term relationship with the club any good at all. Steve, suddenly aware of what I'd seen, looked me in the eye and, without even referring to the potentially explosive opening day fixture, uttered: "Don't even think about it…"
Once the fixtures became public knowledge, of course, Wednesday v Villa was the one everyone was talking about - without a single reference to what might actually unfold on the pitch!
The hate campaign became almost unbearably intense in the week leading up to opening match, with daily stories in the national papers about the hostile reception awaiting Ron on his Hillsborough return.
By Friday, the strain finally began to take its toll. His pre-match press conference, needless to say, attracted a packed audience to his office at Bodymoor Heath, yet having bombarded their readers all week with stories of fans' hatred and the fact that Ron had even been offered police protection, none of the reporters seemed willing to broach the subject with the man himself.
For 10 minutes or so, the questioning was innocuous in the extreme. Who was injured? Who was fit? What sort of game did Ron anticipate? Anything but the main issue, even though it was evident, from his grim face and uncharacteristically abrupt answers, that Ron was far from his usual bubbly self.
Then, with the tame line of questioning having run dry, an uneasy silence fell over the room. It was a broken by a remark which had everyone in fits of laughter.
The Daily Mail's Ray Matts, a reporter who had known Atkinson well for a number of years and is one of the funniest guys you could ever meet, casually leaned against a filing cabinet next to the manager's desk. "If you don't mind me saying so," he remarked. "You look like a worried man to me!"
Everyone - even Ron - collapsed in fits of laughter, and the rest of the conference was more relaxed as we finally got to the heart of the matter.
Ron again looked uneasy during the early stages of the following afternoon's action, but was grinning from ear to ear at the final whistle.
Two-nil down in no time at all, Villa bounced back to win 3-2.
rob bishop, blogs,
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